Aldermen mull future of space formerly occupied by police dept.

VERGENNES — The Vergennes city council on Tuesday began considering what to do with the roughly 800 square feet of city hall formerly occupied by the Vergennes Police Department. According to Mayor Bill Benton aldermen hope to have a plan in place by January.
The space police vacated consists of one large area that served as the department’s squad room, the chief’s office, and a smaller holding and booking room that City Manager Mel Hawley said was carved out of the chief’s office. Hawley said the entire space was once the city clerk’s office before police took it over.
The Friends of the Vergennes Opera House would like to take over the holding room to use as the theater’s first-ever first-floor ticket sales site. Ideally, the theater group would also like use of the former chief’s office — its office space on the second floor is tiny.
But before granting those requests, Benton said on Wednesday, aldermen want to take a more comprehensive look at the city’s needs as well as the theater’s.
“We decided it might be wise to take a look at the whole downstairs space,” Benton said.
Aldermen chose on Tuesday to ask a local design professional for what Benton called a floor plan “with some rough layout ideas” and get back to them, possibly as soon as their Oct. 28 meeting.
Out of that discussion — and from public input aldermen hope they will hear — Benton hopes city officials can develop a formal plan in the next couple months.
“I guess by the end of the year we would like to have some kind of plan together, and a budget,” he said.
Benton said aldermen are hoping to avoid a complete “gut rehab” of the first floor, but rather to decide how best to configure city hall to meet the city’s needs and to give it a facelift.
“We’re hoping it’s an opportunity to cosmetically update those spaces so they are modern and attractive,” he said.
Their goal would be to do so without hitting taxpayers in their wallets, although there are no costs attached to the project at this point.
“I’m thinking matching funds are not available. We do have the Water Tower Fund. I would think that would be a primary funding source for this project,” Benton said. “But until we have the numbers, that’s hard to say.”
Within the next few weeks, the theater might start using the holding room for ticket sales on at least what Benton called a trial basis.
Before making a final decision on which entity uses which spaces, Benton said aldermen would listen to residents.
“It doesn’t require a public vote, but we would like to have public input on it,” he said.
In other business during Tuesday’s 75-minute meeting, aldermen:
•  Agreed to seek a $15,000 to $20,000 engineering grant to find a permanent solution to drainage problems in the Crosby Farms/Bowman Road/Booska Court area below Woodman Hill. Work on a catch basin a couple years ago provided a temporary fix, Benton said, but a long-term answer is still needed for an issue that caused many flooded basements.
•  Heard from Hawley that he is still waiting for a signature from state officials on the proposed agreement to extend a city sewer line to the state-owned rail depot and park-and-ride lot on Route 22A in Ferrisburgh. Benton said the agreement would be worth about $150,000 to Vergennes, but state officials have been balking on one contract provision.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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